Dairy farm water charges

My adjournment matter this evening is for the Minister for Water, and the action I am seeking from the minister is that she work with her department to have a total restructure of water bills for irrigators. What we have seen in the Weekly Times today is just a snapshot of some of the difficulties being faced by dairy farmers and other irrigators, particularly in northern Victoria. Dairy farmers have gone through a pretty tough time in the last 12 to 18 months, and in the Weekly Times today it has been reported that up to 2000 irrigators are up to four months behind in paying their water bills. The debt to Goulburn-Murray Water is in the region of $12 million. The article went on to say that there are about 300 farmers who owe an average $40 000, which is a lot of money.

As we all know, there were retrospective price cuts about 18 months ago by Murray Goulburn and Fonterra that have caused significant hardship for some irrigators. What happened on that occasion is that dairy farmers were paid an amount of money for their milk, and then subsequently the dairy companies came back and said that they had overpaid them and demanded a refund. The impacts of that clawback are now starting to be felt, particularly by irrigators in terms of paying their water bills right now. To compound that, they have had some dry conditions throughout the north which have elevated the price of temporary water, and obviously that makes it more difficult with those higher input costs. With dairy farmers paying for hay and grain, and water to irrigate their grass, as well as the higher electricity charges they are facing now, things are starting to get tight for the dairy industry.

Dairy is very important to Victoria. It is a very large economic driver in this state. We export a lot of dairy products to other parts of the world, but also a lot of the domestic products are used here in Victoria. Victoria is the dairy capital of Australia, and I think our exports are around 85 per cent of all products coming out of Victoria. It is very important that we get some assistance for those dairy farmers to ensure that they can continue to do what they do. They do it very well in terms of producing milk and other products for domestic and export supplies. What we need to do is to have a look at the water bills that these dairy farmers are paying and have a complete restructure of those water bills so there can be a lot more equity, a lot more fairness and a lot more transparency in the way dairy farmers pay their water bills, because at the moment it is just not equitable.

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